As well as the many brands of IBM-compatible PCs, you also have the choice of the many Apple Macintosh models. Although outnumbered by PCs in the business market, the Mac is actually the dominant computer in the fields of electronic publishing and design. The Mac also has the better range of graphics, multimedia and Web editing software.
The good news is that even low-cost Macs and PCs are capable of some fairly complex publishing work (we'll get to the bad news later). There's one main guideline to remember. If you're buying a Mac, make sure it has a PowerPC processor running at 100MHz or more. If you go for a PC, you'll need a Pentium processor, again with a speed of at least 100MHz. All the machines discussed here have 16Mb RAM, and you shouldn't settle for a machine with 8Mb of RAM unless you're really strapped for cash.
Coincidentally, Apple is today launching its new Performa range for home and small business users. Of these, the Performa 5400/160 will make a good basic DTP machine. It has a 160MHz PowerPC 603e processor and a 1.6Gb hard disk, as well as a built-in modem and TV tuner. The price should be about pounds 1,699 including VAT. A comparable 100MHz Pentium PC from a well- established company such as Gateway 200 will cost about the same.
These computers will have no trouble producing reports and newsletters, as well as Web pages that contain text and stationary graphics. If you start to move up to professional-level DTP work that includes photography and lots of illustrations, you'll need a machine from the Power Macintosh range. The Power Macintosh 7600 is an ideal mid-range machine and will cost about pounds 2,500. This has a PowerPC 604 processor running at 132MHz. The confusing bit here is that the 604 processor is more powerful than the 603e even though it runs at a lower speed. The 7600 will be able to handle complex DTP work, and should also be able to tackle multimedia authoring as long as you don't use large amounts of video in your work.
You can get a 133MHz Pentium machine for about pounds 100-pounds 200 less, but the Macintosh is better suited to high-quality DTP and multimedia work, so it's worth the little bit extra if you're going to specialise in this type of work. You'll also find that most other designers use Macs, so you're better off with Mac experience if you're a student or designer looking for electronic publishing work.
The best choice for multimedia work is probably the new Performa 6400/220. This has a 603e processor running at 200MHz, and a full 2.4Gb hard disk. It also has video input and output sockets and a video editing system called Cinema that was developed especially for home users. It's very good value at pounds 2,699, and there aren't any PCs with comparable video capabilities, so this is the machine to get if you plan to use video in your multimedia work.
The bad news - at last - is that there's one further piece of hardware to think about if you're interested in any electronic publishing work. The machines listed here all include a 15-inch monitor, but if you're doing complex page layouts or multimedia editing you may want to upgrade to a 17 or even 21-inch monitor. A decent 17-inch monitor will cost pounds 500- pounds 600, while a good-quality 21-inch monitor will be anywhere from pounds 1,500 to pounds 2,500. You may want to have a word with your bank manager about that one.